Congressional contender Carl DeMaio is getting gobs of national attention these days.

Politicos across the country are closely monitoring DeMaio’s attempt to oust Democratic Rep. Scott Peters in a race dubbed one of the country’s biggest congressional toss-ups. DeMaio, Peters and Republican challengers Fred J. Simon and Kirk Jorgensen will face off in a June 3 primary for the 52nd District seat – a race political analysts believe will almost certainly come down to DeMaio and Peters.

DeMaio’s far from a political newcomer, but this race has been different for him. He’s long preferred to avoid talking about his personal life and taken great steps to do so, even creating a virtual version of himself on his mayoral campaign website to address those questions. Now, in part through his own actions, DeMaio’s private affairs are a major part of the national narrative.

So who is Carl DeMaio? Here’s a reader’s guide.

DeMaio’s Background

The candidate had a rough childhood and he’s long avoided talking about it.

DeMaio, who is gay, also shied from conversations about his personal life – and views on social issues – as a politician.

That silence, particularly on social issues, is one factor that has contributed to a mixed reputation at best within San Diego’s LGBT community. He was once even booed at a San Diego Pride parade.

Throughout his political career, DeMaio, a Republican, has focused on pension and fiscal reforms and said he didn’t think it was his role to “advance a social issue agenda.” As a City Council member he did, however, support a resolution that urged Congress to repeal the federal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the military and another to require city contractors to offer benefits to same-sex partners.

DeMaio’s silence on Prop. 8, which banned gay marriage in the state in 2008 (and has since been overturned), got more attention. Former Mayor Jerry Sanders’ spokesman, who went on to work for one of the nation’s largest gay rights organizations, recently told The Daily Beast that was for political reasons:

“I was working on the Prop 8 campaign and called Carl to ask him to publicly oppose Prop 8. He told me he wouldn’t do that because it would hurt him in his City Council race,” said Fred Sainz, vice president of communications and marketing at the Human Rights Campaign.

DeMaio’s spokesman rejected Sainz’s characterization of events, saying DeMaio won his City Council race in the June primary before the Prop. 8 campaign began.

DeMaio changed his approach earlier this year when he featured his partner, Johnathan Hale, the publisher of the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, in a campaign ad for his congressional race.

Political consultants and analysts have said this marked the first time a gay politician featured his partner in a television ad, and national news outlets have seized on that story.

How DeMaio Made His Money

DeMaio has lots of cash at his disposal.

Here’s how he got it:

Two years before he graduated from college, DeMaio seized on little-known law that required federal agencies to set performance goals and measure their work. DeMaio began hosting conferences to teach government officials how to comply with the legislation and eventually founded The Performance Institute, a for-profit firm that relied heavily on government money and made the bulk of its cash from conferences and training sessions.

His company thrived:

When DeMaio sold The Performance Institute in 2007, it reportedly had 65 employees and its annual revenues reached $10 million. DeMaio also sold a second company, the American Strategic Management Institute, which he had founded in 2003 to provide the same services to the private sector. He has said that company eventually became the more profitable of the two.

DeMaio later sold these two companies for $6 million, leaving DeMaio with a net $2.5 million after profit-sharing and other costs.

DeMaio has also worked multiple consulting jobs for the Reason Foundation, a libertarian policy group, over the last 15 years.

DeMaio’s Foes on Both Sides of the Aisle

DeMaio is polarizing on the left and the right. It’s not just due to social issues or his sexual orientation, but both sides have used that to attack him.

DeMaio acknowledged in 2011 that he was even hesitant to enter the mayor’s race because he feared bomb-throwing from the left, particularly from labor groups that he publicly battled with as he pushed pension and other financial reforms.

Here’s what he told VOSD at the time:

“I was weighing, Do I really need to put up with this shit? The shit that the labor unions are going to hurl? Remember this is a system that they control. They benefit from. Instead of offering ideas, they get nasty, negative and they will go to great lengths to control and to keep that system. … I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t tell you I didn’t have to go through that process and weigh that.”

Assaults from the left did come in the form of public comments and literature that emphasized DeMaio’s sexual orientation in an effort to hurt his standing with conservatives. One deceptively titled political action committee, Conservatives for Gay Rights Supporting Carl DeMaio for Mayor 2012, was fined $7,500 by the city’s Ethics Commission after an investigation revealed Democrats and medical-marijuana advocates were actually behind it.

But liberals weren’t the only ones assembling anti-DeMaio strike teams.

Months after DeMaio lost the mayor’s race, U-T San Diego uncovered a $33,000 group effort led by Republican businessman Fred Maas to undermine DeMaio – and again, emphasize his sexual orientation – by distributing piles of records to San Diego news outlets.

Maas had sought to assemble an investigative documentary about DeMaio’s life.

To read our guide to Rep. Scott Peters, click here.

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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